Aging: The Fulfillment of Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen and Walter J. Gaffney: A Book Review

agingRecently, my co-teachers and I visited another co-teacher whose father had passed away in a far countryside to show  our sympathy to her families. There I  met   not only her late  father in a box  and her families but also  her grandmother. She is already old,  frail, bed-ridden, wrapped herself from head to toes despite the acrid weather. Her skin is almost  wrinkled coming  apart from her bones, and she can no longer see as her eye flaps covered her eyeballs flat  . A wave of fear and awe came over me during the wake ; then, I remembered Henri Nouwen’s philosophy of aging.

Whenever I ask my students at what age they want to kick the bucket, surprisingly,  most of their answer is anywhere between 40 and 50.  Their common reason is that aging is a nightmarish stage of life when they go through many changes such as  in emotional, social , mental , notably physical aspects. They are aware  of that geriatric life could be a rite  of  physical pains. Consequently, society tends to hand over this negative stereotype to another generation.

In this  book, Henri Nouwen  and Walter Gaffney  discusses  what is aging  and how it can be for people. According to him, there are three factors that make many old people feel ostracized: segregation, desolation, and loss of self. These factors are considered as three forms of rejection: rejection by society, rejection by friends, and rejection by  inner self.

To  extirpate  this negative meme, Nouwen explains aging by likening it to the turning of the wheel  as the gradual fulfillment of the life cycle . We should accept  this fact from the deepest part of our heart as what we pulled through  in our  young adulthood stage. To avoid  our possibility to develop geriatriphobia or fear of getting old, he  supports  his proponents by illustrating some  anecdotes to understand the real minds of being senescent. In my books after reading it,  I remain firmer in my belief that aging could be a bed of cherries and roses too. ^^

This little book is also interesting because it has 85  photographs  about things  around our environment  symbolizing  the natural ageism . Walter Gaffney must have taken them himself. They are even soothing in our eyes.

In the context of psychology,  one of the theories why we are said to fear  ageism , aside from the  physical pains we could undergo, is that we  tend to be stagnant  at this age. We  tend to ask ourselves what  needs we have done so far since we began to explore the world. Have we met the goals which we have thought to  be our satisfaction? Such as achievements in your career? or  affiliation needs in which you  have built your relationship?  In this case, experts must be in the conjunction based on  Maslow’s  theory  that in order to be happy even at the last stage of your life is that  you  will have done the goals you want to  achieve before you die. As  Mitch Albom’s professor  put it in his best-selling book Tuesday with Morries:

“ If you do not know how to live , you are afraid to die.”

Thus, fear of death could be associated with ageism.

When my students ask me the same question, I said that I want to live as long as 100. My students frowned at my answer pursing their lips. They asked me why. I just replied that there could be many things I would love to do more. I am not afraid to get older. I would not care about the physical pains I could endure. Simply but ridiculously   because I am obsessed with the books I want to read more in the next generation. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars

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